Recently here on the blog I wrote about "green burials" to let you know about the publication of a new book on that subject.
Today I want to expand on that by telling you about what some Iowa State University students have been doing to come up with alternative burial ideas for communities facing the fact that their cemeteries are running out of room.
But first let me place this in a faith context. Every religion has traditions about how to deal with death and about what, if anything, happens to us after death.
These death traditions can vary widely and even wildly, as funeral director Caitlin Doughty writes in her latest book on the subject, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. Absolutely fascinating read.
So people of faith have lots of reasons to think about how we handle dead bodies -- and environmental concerns certainly are included in that list.
With all that in mind, let's look at what the Iowa State students did.
The city manager of Perry, Iowa, came to an ISU associate professor to ask for help as Perry is about to add space to a cemetery there.
So Carlton Basmajian, the ISU teacher, gathered some students together to work on the matter in a class he called “City of the Dead.”
The students came up with several different options for Perry to consider -- options that all communities no doubt should think about. They include traditional burial, cremation, natural burial, columbaria (which hold urns) and scattering gardens. I believe what they refer to as natural burial here is synonymous with "green burial" mentioned in the book I reviewed. (More details in the press release to which I've linked you above.)
Some of these suggested options may require legal policy adjustments, but those are matters all communities should be thinking about.
In the end, the goal is to honor the dead but focus on the needs of the living.
Speaking of funerals and burial and such, KCTV in Kansas City did this lovely story the other day about a man who wanted to plan and attend his own funeral before he died. And so he did, with the help of friends and of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care (on the board of which I serve).
(The photo here today is one I took at Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City at Troost and Gregory.)
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WHEN THE ANSWER IS 'NO'
Pope Francis says the number of priests in Italy and across Europe is falling alarmingly, and he's not sure what to do about it. One obvious answer, ordaining women, is a non-starter in Catholicism. So I join the pontiff in not knowing what else to do about it.